Midtown: Sports

Jakeitha Baker has seen more girls enter sport in recent years

Jakeitha Baker paces back and forth behind the Broughton wrestling team’s bench, stepping from side to side, hands on hips. Dessed in all black, except for a pink Nike swoosh emblazoned across the front of her sweatshirt, Baker stands focused, eyes straight ahead, sweatshirt hood up, before the match. Once on the mat, it’s all business, pinning the opponent in a minute, 50 seconds.

“I’m just a wrestler,’” the senior says after the 145-pound weight class victory.

But in the stands, spectators from other schools take notice, pointing out to other onlookers that there is a girl, over there, wrestling for Broughton High.

Baker, 17, is not the lone high school girl to wrestle in North Carolina, the Triangle, Raleigh, Cap Eight Conference, or even on her team. She is, however, one of the best. Pound-for-pound, she was ranked the the second-best high school girl wrestler in the state by retrorankings.com.

Baker said she began wrestling at age 7, and has won 11 national titles — 10 in girls competitions and one in boys.

“When I first started, boys didn’t really want to wrestle me, I guess because they didn’t really know that I could really wrestle,” she said. “When I got more into it, it was like they had to come with their ‘A’ game because I’m a pretty good wrestler.”

Baker hopes to one day compete in the Olympics. She finished this season undefeated at 5-0, cut short by eligibility issues during the first semester.

She has signed to wrestle for Campbellsville University, a Kentucky school which finished sixth among 18 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics teams in the Women’s College Wrestling Association championship last month.

Also a boxer and cross country and track competitor, Baker said she has always been aggressive. She began wrestling under the tutelage of her father, Keith Baker, who wrestled at Murray State University.

“Personality-wise, she’s got a lot of energy,” Broughton coach Andrew Redfern said. “She’s a funny girl, charismatic. In the mat room, she probably has the best technique out of any of my wrestlers, which says a lot. That goes back to her dad coaching her.

She’s been wrestling a long time. … As far as physicalness, she’s not strong, but she has heart and she’s mean. She’s just as mean as any boy or young man that I’ve ever seen on the mat, and she doesn’t quit.”

Baker was the first girl Redfern coached, but her presence has helped both him and other wrestlers — male and female — grow in the program.

“Thank goodness she was already where she was at when I got her,” Redfern said. “I’ve had more girls come out now and it’s getting easier, especially having her in the mat room with them and it’s kind of like they learn from each other.

“Jakeitha is probably one of the main reasons in this area that girls are starting to come out and see that it’s OK if we try this.”